Mary Sue DeLoach Smith has a Bulloch County keepsake that spans five generations. She shares that treasure with the community and beyond, preserving history and sharing love — and it’s called The Barn at Olde Homeplace.
“I’m sentimental,” said Smith. “I’ve always been interested in family history, and I value old things.”
The barn is one of those old things, originally built in 1914, and the “Olde Homeplace” dates back to 1897. In fact, the farm has the designation of a Georgia Centennial Farm, earned in 2017.
“Granddaddy started farming 25 acres joining his father’s place, back in 1897,” said Smith. Her grandfather, John H. Brannen, cut trees off the land for lumber to build a two-room house. By the end of that year, John H. and Julia Ann Brannen were married and started housekeeping.
In 1913 and 1914, the couple added four rooms and a front porch to the home and built a mule barn just across the yard from the home. Six years later, screened-in porches, a bathroom and electric lights modernized the home and a deep well and windmill graced the property, too. The lean-to, an additional structure, was also added to the mule barn in 1920.
“That’s the same windmill which was operational during the 20s and 30s,” said Smith. “My brother, Lee, tried many times to climb all the way to the top.”
John H. and Julia Ann raised four children in the original home place, and photos on the barn wall sport the team of mules and drivers that farmed the land for years, hence, the need for a mule barn.
“Built with lap board on the outside, the barn is different than just a pole barn,” said Smith. “It’s enclosed completely, and the inside is crib style, built that way because of the need for air circulation. The three cribs at the back of the structure held hay, fodder, seed and corn and needed air flow so the feed wouldn’t mold.
“Originally a dirt floor, the first room was open space with a mule trough and Granddaddy dropped hay into the trough from the hay loft upstairs,” she added.
By the time Smith’s grandparents passed away in 1957 and 1960, Smith’s mother, Lucille Brannen DeLoach, had married and was living on a farm in Portal. Smith and her brother, Lee DeLoach, attended Portal schools. He graduated Portal High School; she attended through ninth grade and then graduated from Statesboro High School.
“One summer day in high school, Lee brought home one of the guys he worked with to join for lunch since Lee had sometimes enjoyed the sandwiches he brought to work. That’s how I met Bob,” Smith said. J. Robert (Bob) Smith Jr. and Mary Sue DeLoach were married March 20, 1971.
“Bob and I lived the first five years of marriage in Portal, and then my mom gifted me with the Olde Homeplace in 1976,” said Smith. “Thus began the third generation and later, with the birth of our son, Brannen, in 1982, the fourth generation, on the property.”
With remodeling of the interior, the Olde Homeplace became home for the couple and their children: Brannen, now 37, Mary Lucy, 33, and Sarah Ann, 31.
Once again, children roamed the fields, played in the barn, searched for the newest litter of kittens born in the corn crib, rode horses and played outdoors.
“My children grew up in and out of that barn, helping their dad with the horses,” said Smith.
Bob farmed and bought and sold livestock, and Smith taught school. With four degrees from Georgia Southern which include undergraduate and graduate degrees in education, as well as an education specialist degree and doctorate, Smith taught for the next 30 years and retired in 2002.
“I’ve been fortunate to work part-time since then, for 17 years,” says Smith. “My goal is to have 50. I just love it, and it’s an honor to teach children.”
Smith works as an intervention specialist at Julia P. Bryant School, where she also taught full-time for 25 years.
When the first of the three children chose to marry at home, the Smiths prepared the home and yard for an outdoor wedding for Sarah Ann and Nick Earls. Married in 2008, the Earls, who are both in the education field, are the parents of Madison, 11, and John Matthew, 1.
A couple of years later, Brannen and Haley married, with the ceremony taking place on the front porch, followed by a barbecue reception under a tent in the yard. Brannen, a commercial lender at Morris Bank, and Haley, a part-time Ogeechee Technical College instructor, are the parents of 6-year-old Scarlett and 3-year-old Emmaline.
Before Mary Lucy, a high school Spanish teacher, wed Brandon Rowland, a dermatologist, in October of 2013, Bob began to have health issues following his first lung transplant.
“He was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis in 2007, said Smith. “It’s an autoimmune disease with no known cause or cure.”
The couple spent a great deal of time at Duke University Hospital, where Bob would eventually have a lung transplant.
The first barn project was directed by Smith from Bob’s hospital room via e-mail She felt the need to be able to secure the barn, and took a screenshot of a barn track door, sent it to Lee, and from there the first of many barn projects began.
After her parents returned from Duke at the end of April following the February transplant, engaged daughter Mary Lucy decided she wanted her reception in the barn, so a lot of cleanup began. With Bob unable to take care of the barn and farm due to breathing and health constraints, several issues needed addressing.
Smith refers to Tom Mitch of Portal as “architect of the barn” and the designer of projects which have continually improved the barn. She runs ideas by him and constant improvements of the venue have taken place. Additionally, she regularly asks for feedback from people who use the facility to entertain.
Mitch, Smith’s “go-to” for any repairs and decisions about the barn, has worked since 2015 to bring it to its present condition.
“I value his expertise and craftsmanship. Our motto is ‘keep it simple,’ as well as we consider the time period of the mule barn. It’s our goal to stay true to the character of the authentic livestock barn. The architect and craftsman is always improving Lee’s properties, too. We collaborate and swap and share materials.
“Bob and I were granted a window of time between his two separate lung transplants and we were blessed to return home so he could walk our middle child down the aisle,” said Smith.
Unfortunately, Bob developed an infection in the left lung soon after the wedding. He was advised by his Duke transplant team to undergo another transplant in June of 2014 due to an infection in his “native” lung which could not be cleared. However, trouble set in right away, and he passed away in January of 2015.
During those difficult times and today, Smith said she clings to Proverbs 3:-5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and he will direct your paths.”
To help ease her grieving heart, the mule barn became Smith’s project.
“My purpose was to clean up the barn, get organized so that my grown kids could have some suppers or get-togethers for their friends,” she said. “It was a healing project for me — gave me a focus, and I felt productive.
“With two different stints at Duke, things had run down and the barn was closed up. Living with grief, if one finds something to do, even if it’s small, it helps. One of my first tasks was to organize Bob’s gas cans for the farm equipment. I knew he had lots of them, and I was determined to find them all and put them in one place,” she said.
Smith found 17 gas cans, many of which needed discarding, and that, along with organizing and repairing the barn, gave her another vision for the longtime treasure. Mitch was adding bathrooms, and she realized she had almost everything needed to use the barn as an event location.
“Shortly after that, a friend called and needed a place for an engagement party, kind of last minute, and the first official event hosted here was that engagement party in November of 2015,” she said.
Since then, a host of parties and events have taken place at The Barn at Olde Homeplace, just a few miles beyond downtown on the west side of Statesboro.
Many repurposed items add character to the interior. For instance, Bob’s mother’s kitchen table, Smith’s mother’s deep freezer and her grandmother’s Hoover cabinet, turpentine barrels, old lanterns, her grandmother’s quilts, old mirrors, her grandfather’s pedestal sink from the back porch, an old timber cart and original wood with visible mule bites — cribbing marks — bring the barn to life.
“I revere farm life,” said Smith. “I appreciate it. I think my barn is a contribution to preserving farm life. The barn is my gift from God, and it came at a time that I needed a diversion.”
Smith says people are attracted to farm life, and she’s met some of the most wonderful people that want a barn wedding, reception, birthday party or another social.
“And, if they want to come out here, then they are my kind of people,” she said. “Weddings are fun, but my favorite event is children’s birthday parties because kids love to run and play and ride the zip line. When families celebrate happy occasions here, great memories are created in a casual and tranquil setting. People don’t socialize like they used to, and I love when a guest at the barn tells me their memories from long ago start flooding back in addition to creating new memories here.
“The Barn has been a big blessing to me and a wonderful hobby. It’s given me an outlet for historical preservation, which is dear to me, and given me a chance to meet people. It’s added a lot of pleasure to my life. I like to work, and I’m blessed that I’m healthy to be able to work.”
Going through her husband’s illness and death has led Smith to desire to live the fullest life that she can, for herself and for Bob’s legacy.
The Barn is my way of expressing traditions and honoring the farming lifestyle,” she said.
Find more info about the barn at www.thebarnatoldehomeplacestatesboroga.com.